Joseph Kaletau - Oral History interview recorded on 16 May 2017 at Luburua, New Ireland Province, PNG

Description

Mr Kaletau tells about how he witnessed the initial arrival of the Japanese.

Language

Interview

Warning: This site contains stories of war. Some of these interviews may include detailed and graphic descriptions of events and experiences that may be disturbing for some individuals.


Transcript:
[Interviewer]
Alright, good morning Joseph.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Good morning.
[Interviewer]
Thank you, are you happy to see us? Well we're happy to see you.
[Joseph Kaletau]
I am also very happy to see all of you, however I get terrified every time I share this story but hopefully I'll manage to share everything.
[Interviewer]
It's OK, we know you'll manage, don't worry. So how big were you when the war started?
[Joseph Kaletau]
I was the same age as that little boy over there.
[Interviewer]
You mean this one here?
[Unidentified speaker]
Yes.
[Joseph Kaletau]
OK.
[Interviewer]
So how old is that boy?
[Unidentified speaker]
Fifteen.
[Interviewer]
Fifteen years old, OK, then you must have witnessed a lot of things.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Of course.
[Interviewer]
During that time, who were the first group that came, the Japanese, the Australians or the Americans? Who were the first invaders when the war started?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Where?
[Interviewer]
The village.
[Unidentified speaker]
Their arrival in the village.
[Interviewer]
Upon the arrival of the armies, who was the first, the Japanese? Or who do you think came in first?
[Joseph Kaletau]
You mean during the war?
[Interviewer]
Did you see the armies during the war?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Well the Australians were the first to come. They came and waited for the arrival of the Japanese.
[Interviewer]
OK.
[Joseph Kaletau]
They stationed with all their guns in Kavieng, and watched for the Japanese in case they arrived and started bombing Kavieng.
[Interviewer]
And where were you? In Kavieng or in the village?
[Joseph Kaletau]
I was in the village but I was told by my elders.
[Interviewer]
Alright, so who were the soldiers that came here, the Japanese?
[Joseph Kaletau]
The Japanese fought the Australians and won, so the Australians hid in the caves with their guns and waited for the Japanese air planes.
[Interviewer]
And how did the Japanese come in?
[Joseph Kaletau]
They came in from Nango island, they came in by plane followed by their ship.
[Unidentified speaker]
So the plane came first?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes the plane was the first to approach.
[Interviewer]
Were bombs thrown on the sea or up in the bushes?
[Joseph Kaletau]
No, they wanted to bomb the Australians but they all sat and hid with their guns waiting to shoot the Japanese.
[Interviewer]
Did you hear anything about Japanese being killed or shot?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Not yet, that was later towards the middle of the war, some Japanese got shot. However they did not kill any. Only one plane was shot down, the Australians tried but these Japanese were really strong, they dropped bombs and ran away.
[Interviewer]
Did the Japanese come to the village?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, they were so many.
[Interviewer]
Plenty.
[Unidentified speaker]
Some were their workers.
[Joseph Kaletau]
They came in multitudes, about thousands and thousands of them.
[Interviewer]
Were you working?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes… I usually…
[Unidentified speaker]
Helped carry water.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Carry the Japanese water from the bushes.
The big bush.
[Interviewer]
Where did you get your water from, this huge water source there?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes.
[Interviewer]
You, that really huge water source?
[Joseph Kaletau]
And the top…
[Interviewer]
Used for drinking.
[Joseph Kaletau]
You drink?
[Interviewer]
And were there a lot of you, so the young ones they got them to carry water?
[Joseph Kaletau]
There's about four of us, but it was much smaller at first.
[Interviewer]
OK.
[Joseph Kaletau]
It was Sagaden, myself and another boy.
[Interviewer]
Is he still alive?
[Joseph Kaletau]
No, he died.
[Interviewer]
OK.
[Joseph Kaletau]
I also left another boy, sadly he already passed away.
[Interviewer]
So you're the only one remaining.
[Interviewer]
So altogether there were about five of you?
[Interviewer]
Sadly he already passed?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Sorry my head turns to twist things up at times.
Shut up and wait.
[Interviewer]
OK, that is fine. So the five of you carried water?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes we did.
[Interviewer]
And where do you carry this water? Whereabout was your camp?
[Joseph Kaletau]
We didn't have any camp, we resided were the big rocks are.
[Interviewer]
OK, so if you were there, then whereabouts were the Japanese?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Hiding in the rocks.
[Interviewer]
On top and in the bushes? Are these stone caves and holes still there?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes.
[Unidentified speaker]
Can you state the name of that place?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Between these places there is a place for rest.
[Interviewer]
You mean the big caves?
[Unidentified speaker]
It's not far, there is a path that leads directly there.
[Interviewer]
Is it a big cave?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes.
[Interviewer]
So the Japanese resided there.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes.
[Interviewer]
And you people transported their water supply?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, however there were only a few Japanese.
[Interviewer]
Really?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, but you know how the people were so frightened back in those days.
[Interviewer]
Yeah, OK.
[Joseph Kaletau]
There were only two Japanese.
[Interviewer]
How many?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Just two, but there was a lot of soldiers sitting at Levaluka. The main group was down at … thousands of them. Bonabou and a bit back, just beside those bushes.
[Interviewer]
And the food, did the people in the village provide them with any?
[Joseph Kaletau]
What should I say? These Japanese came with worse, they were communists. Anyone who misbehaved is punished really badly.
[Interviewer]
And were you beaten for any circumstances?
[Joseph Kaletau]
In my case no, but I feltl sorry for the older folks, they got really beaten up when the Japanese were not in a good mood. About one hundred cane whips.
[Interviewer]
What about the mothers?
[Joseph Kaletau]
About one hundred cane whips you will get which can lead to the person being unconscious and unable to walk.
[Interviewer]
Were the women also punished by whips or was it strictly done only to men?
[Joseph Kaletau]
In some cases yes, and there are sad stories regarding women punished by Japanese.
[Interviewer]
It's alright, you can tell us.
[Joseph Kaletau]
No, it's so disgusting and there is so many people here, I can't.
[Interviewer]
That's alright, I understand.
[Joseph Kaletau]
It's OK, but if I had to share to the experience, a lot things you as a woman will feel offended about, and I cannot mention the people in the story. I could only say that it was worse than bad, what these Japanese did to us.
[Interviewer]
So did they get the people in the village to work for them?
[Joseph Kaletau]
We did all their gardening and food supplying. It was OK at first, until the Australians started bombing them, joined in by the Americans, the allied forces destroyed all their source of supply. Soon the Japanese had no bullets, no food and they were confused and all over the place. I don't know how this happened but I think they stopped them from Port Moresby?
[Interviewer]
OK.
[Joseph Kaletau]
The Americans cut all their supplies and they were stranded.
[Unidentified speaker]
Dad, please continue to share what it was like living among the Japanese.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Sorry?
[Unidentified speaker]
They want to know what happened to the people, how they were treated and so forth.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, we lived together, we made gardens, planted food, tobacco and many more. You couldn't relax or work for yourself. They had their bosses, referred to as Sandri, they monitored everyone.
[Unidentified speaker]
You respected them and they controlled you.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Kabagasi, Kabagas, Kabagasi, that's a Japanese name… Kabagase.
[Interviewer]
Kabagase?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes.
[Unidentified speaker]
He's the top boss.
[Interviewer]
Kabagase, he's a Japanese.
[Joseph Kaletau]
He controlled all the Japanese, nevertheless he was the only one who lived among us. But he was really bad, most of the time he sent word to stop bad decisions that were made to us and prevented things from happening.
[Interviewer]
Really?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Of course.
[Unidentified speaker]
He was the one who took and sent the people to Luburua.
[Interviewer]
So this cave is it, where they killed the people?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes.
[Unidentified speaker]
And that's the main base where they cut people's neck from all around New Ireland province.
[Interviewer]
Were a lot of your people's throats slit?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Just two I guess.
[Interviewer]
Wow.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Lei and Silika were their names, they had the neck chopped off at Luburua, done by the Kenpeitai… these were people who slit throats.
[Interviewer]
So that's where the throat slitters were.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, at Luburua.
[Interviewer]
And the boss was living here?
[Joseph Kaletau]
He lived here. Whenever someone did wrong, he was brought up before the court, if he won the case then he was brought back down again.
[Interviewer]
So the court was also done over there?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes the court was done again there.
[Interviewer]
Did both women and men go to it?
[Joseph Kaletau]
No, not the women.
[Interviewer]
Just the men, OK.
[Joseph Kaletau]
In some cases stories were heard regarding men taking things from the Australians or the Americans. Even at times when the stories were made up and not true.
[Unidentified speaker]
Especially when they found little things that belonged to the Australians like cigarette paper or paper, they took them to court.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Most times they were just accusations.
[Unidentified speaker]
When they were suspected as a spy.
[Joseph Kaletau]
There was a man… who the Japanese took and asked where are you from, and he said I'm from Bukei, Bukei, Manus.
[Interviewer]
Oh Manus?
[Joseph Kaletau]
But he was a bad man… I'm sorry.
[Interviewer]
I'm from here, it's OK, please continue.
[Joseph Kaletau]
That Bukei, no matter what you did you would still get transferred.
[Interviewer]
Was he working with the Japanese?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Of course.
[Interviewer]
Do you know his name?
[Joseph Kaletau]
That man from Bukei?
[Interviewer]
Bukei is in Manus province.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes.
[Interviewer]
What was he doing here?
[Joseph Kaletau]
The Japanese found him, so he was working with the Japanese feeding them with all types of reports.
[Interviewer]
So he did lie?
[Joseph Kaletau]
He did it to everyone, he made up stories and innocent people got their throats slit.
[Interviewer]
Wow.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Nevertheless, we were still here working in the garden.
[Interviewer]
Both the women and children?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, everyone, we came down at night and worked, then went back and hid among the huge stones.
[Unidentified speaker]
You didn't work in the day time?
[Joseph Kaletau]
You could hardly find food because of the way these Japanese treated the people. There was food, you won't get hungry, but they were cruel, hostile.
[Interviewer]
They never killed anyone in the village right, they transferred everyone over?
[Joseph Kaletau]
They only killed down there.
[Interviewer]
But not over here.
[Joseph Kaletau]
No.
[Interviewer]
Maybe the beating and punishing was here?
[Joseph Kaletau]
They whipped us with canes every time, they beat or punished us.
[Interviewer]
During the beating did everyone get to witness it?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, they called everyone over, they tied your hands and laid you on a platform.
[Interviewer]
And then a hundred whips?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, you would either die or be half conscious, you would fall and be badly injured.
[Interviewer]
How many rounds did they do, if there was a group that needed to be whipped?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Come again?
[Interviewer]
If there ws more than two people, did they whip them all at once or one by one?
[Joseph Kaletau]
No sure, but if you went against their will, then they would punish you.
[Interviewer]
OK.
[Joseph Kaletau]
But not in everything, only few mistakes are considered as punishable.
[Interviewer]
Alright.
[Joseph Kaletau]
But you know, the pain was just unbearable.
[Interviewer]
During their stay were they joined by some new reinforcements?
[Joseph Kaletau]
No, they came in strongly only when all their food supply and ammunition got cut off, That was when we started working and started witnessing their cruel nature.
[Interviewer]
There are some other places where they normally played, did you people play in your area?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, we would sing and make noise. Everything we did, we were expected to sing.
[Interviewer]
Would you remember any of your songs or any of their songs which they taught?
[Joseph Kaletau]
The songs are here but I'm old, I cannot sing.
[Interviewer]
Alright, so you sang and danced.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes we danced.
[Interviewer]
And the women?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Everyone would take part, if you tried to hide, even though you're tired, you would get beaten.
[Interviewer]
Were you taught their language?
[Interviewer]
Please sing the song again. I want you to sing the song again, I will now pay attention to the song.
[Joseph Kaletau]
(Singing in Japanese) That's the end of the song.
[Interviewer]
Thank you, did they teach the Japanese language to you? Can you recall some of the words in their language?
[Unidentified speakers]
They taught you how to count in their language. Count in Japanese language, say the one, two and three. We will let you recall the language. We will give you time to recall the Japanese language.
[Joseph Kaletau]
Wait, wait. I cannot remember everything.
[Unidentified speaker]
Just recall one number and tell us.
[Joseph Kaletau]
(Counting in Japanese).
I can't remember everything. They might hear this and know that I made a mistake. The Japanese might hear the stories I am revealing and say, I only mentioned the bad things, so I will not continue this story. They might say, this old man lied and shared only bad stories.
[Interviewer]
Who attending their classes? Both men and women?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Ah?
[Interviewer]
Were both men and women invited to attend the Japanese classes?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Only children were invited to attend these classes, not the adults. Demas still remember the songs and how to count.
Demas is the ex-Premier.
[Interviewer]
Oh, ex-Premier.
[Unidentified speaker]
Hetson knows all these things.
[Interviewer]
Okay, who is Hetson and where is he?
[Unidentified speakers]
He lives over there. They live over at the guest house that way.
[Interviewer]
So these were your friends during the war?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Ah, we were together during the war.
[Interviewer]
OK.
[Joseph Kaletau]
We grew up together. Let me tell you about our time together. The Japanese were not always good, they admired and liked our ladies. A sad occasion occurred when one of our community leaders, known as the Tultul, I can't recall his name? Who was he?
[Interviewer]
That OK, just tell us the story.
[Joseph Kaletau]
What was his name again?
[Interviewer]
Continue with the story, what happened? The Japanese took him?
[Joseph Kaletau]
The Japanese admired and liked his wife so they tied him like a pig to a pole and laid him on the ground then asked us to sing and dance around him. They always treated him like that. Then they would say to everyone in the community that the Tultul was a bad guy but he wasn't. They liked his wife and did that to hurt him so they could have his wife. These actions were done during the war.
[Interviewer]
Did they take his wife away from him?
[Joseph Kaletau]
No, she was with us in the community during the war.
[Interviewer]
Would you know how many times he was treated that way?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Three times they tied him like a pig.
[Interviewer]
Did they do the same to other ladies and their husbands?
[Joseph Kaletau]
No, just to this couple and to another lady.
[Interviewer]
Were both women married?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Ah, both of them were married women.
[Interviewer]
Were both women still around here and alive when the war ended?
[Joseph Kaletau]
The bosses, leaders who were the Japanese men were great liars as well. They told the men in the community to refill the vehicles because they would be travelling to Namatanai. They lied to us because they were now leaving us to go to Namatanai, to catch a boat then go to Rabaul and leave the country.
[Interviewer]
Thank you so much, would you like to tell us another story?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Life during the war was also dangerous and bad. Japanese mistreated us a lot. When someone had done something wrong, they would punish them. At one stage, they were not happy with a group of men so they commanded us to make a big fire, then asked someone to get them some chilli. They then asked the women to sit around the fire and watch them as they rubbed chilli onto each man's penis and told the ladies to look at the men.
[Unidentified speaker]
They circumcised all the men.
[Joseph Kaletau]
They then rubbed chilli on their penises and commanded them to stand beside the fire and face the fire. They circumcised these men then rubbed chilli on their penises and asked them to face the burning fire. When the heat burned them and they screamed and moved back, they would beat them on the buttocks and push them forward towards the fire again. They made these guys naked and treated them that way.
[Interviewer]
Did they only treat men that way and not the women? Were they all married men?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Only men were treated that way while the women were commanded to sit and watch everything.
[Interviewer]
What about the men?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Well the men were commanded to stand naked and face the fire.
[Unidentified speaker]
They circumcised them, got them naked and commanded them to stand and face the burning fire. They rubbed the chilli and asked them to face the burning hot fire. These was their punishment for doing something wrong.
[Joseph Kaletau]
These Japanese really hurt us.
[Interviewer]
Did anyone of them die?
[Joseph Kaletau]
No, they all survived the ordeal. You know that the chilli can be very dangerous and to make matters worse they kept screaming to the women to stare at the men. They kept asking them to stare and to keep looking at the men. The women were crying and shy because it is against their culture because some of these men were their brothers, but the Japanese kept commanding them to look at the men and they ensured that the women looked directly at their sibo. They kept saying look at the sibo.
[Interviewer]
Sibo? What is that, is it a name or a type of practice?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Sibo was the name of the penis.
[Unidentified speaker]
The Japanese called the penis, sibo.
[Joseph Kaletau]
The penis was called the sibo. Keep looking at the sibo. Keep staring at the sibo. Some of the women looked away but they were commanded to look at the sibo so they had to obey.
[Unidentified speaker]
It was a terrible and horrible experience.
[Interviewer]
We are laughing because of the way Joseph is explaining the experience but I am sure it was a very bad experience.
Would you have some other stories to share with us? These types of stories are important to us.
[Joseph Kaletau]
I'm just sharing these stories that happened in the past. We made a lot of gardens. We planted a lot of tobacco as well for the Japanese. They asked us to do all us and most times they would speak in their mother tongue. They called our work, service, they depended on us to do everything for them. They kept some of the people in their prison camp in a big hole. The women would carry the food and coconut to them. They kept the food for themselves but would cut the coconut in half, take the flesh of the coconut out and throw it down the hole to these prisoners.
[Interviewer]
Where was this hole, was it in Luburua?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Not in Luburua. These were different prisoners.
[Interviewer]
Did they throw the coconut down the hole?
[Joseph Kaletau]
Yes, they did.
[Unidentified speaker]
They threw the coconuts to these prisoners, then they would kill them.
[Interviewer]
How about the food, was it for the Japanese or the prisoners?
[Joseph Kaletau]
The garden food was for the Japanese while the prisoners only ate coconut. Coconuts were cut into pieces just like how we prepare coconuts to feed our pigs. They would keep these prisoners in that hole for a while and if they knew that one of them had misbehaved, they would ask us to kill our chicken in the village, prepare food and everything edible. They would then lie to us that some of our relatives in prison would be released. They would also tell us that our relatives in the main prison in Luburua would be released as well, but instead that they would take some of them to Namatanai. They would kill our relatives in prison instead and lie to us but we always prepared the food according to their request. They lied a lot.
[Interviewer]
Who usually ate the food? Was it the Japanese?
[Joseph Kaletau]
We usually ate the food, however it would take us a whole day to wait for our relatives and by evening, we could no longer wait so we would end up eating the food. The Japanese lied a lot to our people. What I'm telling you is true. They would kill our relatives, then come and order us to prepare food and wait for them to return. They were great liars.
[Interviewer]
Would you have another story to tell us?
So far, you have told us the stories about the women, then the men who were punished, then the story about the hole and Luburua and finally the story about the sibo event.
Did the village people go fishing at all, to catch fish for the Japanese?
[Joseph Kaletau]
It was hard to go fishing because the aeroplanes constantly flew over our community. We were all afraid of the aeroplanes. Aeroplanes would fly by our community every day. The sandri workers watched the aeroplanes from the tree tops. They climbed the trees and announced to us when an aeroplane was approaching and we would all run away and hide.
[Interviewer]
Were the sandri workers locals or Japanese?
[Joseph Kaletau]
They were locals. Their job was to inform us when the aeroplanes were approaching while the rest of us would be busy working in the garden. They always called out when the aeroplanes were coming our way, they would say, yesman, the aeroplane is coming, yesman. Yesman was a Japanese word.
[Interviewer]
I think we have collected enough.
Thank you.
I believe we have collected all the stories from you.

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Family Relationships

Interviewee

Joseph Kaletau

Interviewee Gender

Interviewers

Interview Date

16/05/2017

Interview Duration

00:32:10:00

Interview Translator


Rights Holder

© Deakin University
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike licence

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Citation

“Joseph Kaletau - Oral History interview recorded on 16 May 2017 at Luburua, New Ireland Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed October 23, 2018, http://pngvoices.deakin.edu.au/items/show/429.

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